Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Read it now: Thermohalia

I came across this fantastic web-comic this week, which I'd not heard anything about- that may just be me- I'm not the greatest with keeping up with web-comics. Written and illustrated by artist Heather Penn, Thermohalia does a superb job of quickly establishing characters, and blending mythos- mermaids, robots, a walled, Venice-like city- to build an original world. There's not a great deal of it yet (which should encourage you to read what there is), but Penn's introduced her cast members and the two narrative stands that are already merging.

On the one hand you have Coi an inquisitive young woman/mermaid who's been taken under the wing of 2 larger, serpentine mermaids- they appear to be of a slightly different species, as Coi is able to walk on land, her tail morphing into legs, and live under water, with ease, as well as having a more human-esqe appearance. the mermaids live in a vast body of water outside a great walled city- built, apparently, to keep them out, and separate from those who reside within. While Coi is curious as to what lies beyond, her adoptive guardians are happy with the status quo, and confident that the wall will keep her from further investigation.

Meanwhile, inside the city, a group of friends are working on fixing their robot, Heghera, as they prod around in his head. Cashel, the leader of this little outfit, has given Heghera bird legs to make him stand out- something which Heghera, in turn, loathes. There's a callous streak to Cashel, who makes sure Heghera carries business cards with him while he runs errands, should people ask who created such a specimen. But enough about the story, I really love what Penn's created here; the world and storytelling feels strong and well-realised, and the mix of digital and painted art-work looks a bit nifty- breathtakingly beautiful in places. I'm always happy to see new takes on mermaids and robots, too, so this hit all the right spots for me. Looking forward to seeing where it's all going. 

Jump on board Monster

While writing about Naoki Urasawa and introductions to manga on Monday, I remembered that another of his acclaimed series, Monster, will be getting a re-release this year. Now, I know it might seem tedious covering news of a re-release, but if you've never read Urasawa, I thought this would be worth covering/highlighting as one of his earlier works coming back into print, and what with serialised comics hell-bent on 'jumping-on points' for readers, I think this serves a similar purpose as an entry-point to Urasawa's work- and with the added bonus of quality assurance.

Originally serialised in Japanese anthology Big Comic from 1995-2001, the series was released in English by Viz in 18 volumes, published over a period of 2 years in 2006-08. With the books out of print, and Urasawa having only grown in popularity and profile amongst English language audiences, thanks to translations of both his Pluto and 20th Century Boys series, Viz announced last August that they would be re-releasing Monster in 'perfect editions.' The perfect editions will be more over-sized, paperback books, collecting 2 volumes of the old editions in each one, thus cutting the total number of books to 9. The new editions will release every 3 months, with the first volume due for publication on the 15th of July.  Here's a an official synopsis from Viz:

'Johan is a cold and calculating killer with a mysterious past, and brilliant Dr. Kenzo Tenma is the only one who can stop him! Conspiracy and serial murder open the door to a compelling, intricately woven plot in this masterwork of suspense. Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. Even a brilliant surgeon like Kenzo Tenma is no exception. But there's no way he could have known that his decision to stop chasing professional success and instead concentrate on his oath to save peoples' lives would result in the birth of an abomination. The questions of good and evil now take on a terrifyingly real dimension. Years later, in Germany during the tumultuous post-reunification period, middle-aged childless couples are being killed one after another. The serial killer's identity is known. The reasons why he kills are not. Dr. Tenma sets out on a journey to find the killer's twin sister, who may hold some clues to solving the enigma of the Monster.'

Viz are also releasing Urasawa's Master Keaton for the first time- his earliest work to see English language publication, with the first volume due in December this year.

Get acquainted with the art of Felicia Choo

Whatever your thoughts on Tumblr, for the comics fan, it is a fantastic way to both follow, and discover comics, and creators on a truly international level. While established artists debate the usefulness of the blogging platform in terms of its ability (or lack thereof) to translate popularity into actual sales, for the budding creator, it's a valuable tool when starting out and getting eyeballs on your work. Many editors- Francoise Mouly and beyond have talked of using the site to sift for fresh, new talent, looking for artists to hire. It was via Tumblr I first came across the work of Australian artist Felicia Choo. Choo's comics and art are instantly eye-catching- not only for the aesthetic beauty on display, in particular the wonderful use of colour, but there's a level of capability, of assurity, that indicates a passion and thoughtfulness for the art, and  -to use up my one cliche per piece- a bright future. Choo completed her Bachelor of Illustration last year; and is now looking to make professional forays into the medium- what better time then, to catch up and discuss all things comics.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well hm. I’m 21, I live in Melbourne Australia, I get seasick easily, and I’m allergic to cats.

You'll be graduating in May- did you find studying helpful to your development as an artist? I know people take to it differently- some leave, finding it 'undoing' their style, others feel it enhances their work and equips them with greater tools, etc.

I did find the study helpful to an extent, but at the same time it wasn't as useful as I was hoping it would be. Australia hasn't really got much in comparison to the US when it comes to art or illustration courses though, so I guess I was expecting a little too much. I made some good friends and had my first life drawing classes which were great, but I found the stress of the more theory-driven activities weighed me down a lot and I didn't do as much drawing during those periods. I’m not sure if I would have benefited more if I had dropped out, but I pushed through a depressing final semester. I learned from my experiences one way or another! I seriously doubt I’ll be doing any more study though, it really wasn't for me.

How did you get into comics- are they something that have always been around you, and you've read, or did you become more aware of them later? What sort of things did you read?

Comics were something I really enjoyed when I was about ages 5-12, but at 13 my mother went through what we refer to now as her ‘hardcore church era’ and she banned me from reading comics and watching television. Thanks to the internet I managed to sneak some manga into my life without her noticing, but as soon as I turned 18 and she released me from my church services I got straight back into the swing of things and caught up on everything I missed in those 5 years. I actually can’t remember what the very first comic I picked up was, but I remember being vaguely obsessed with Naruto.

What is the Australian comics scene like? Is there anything going on - events, community, creators, where you live? Is it something you're aware of or involved in?

I’m a bit ashamed to say I have no idea! I’m not very active in the local scene, I only know a few people working in comics in Australia! Most of them not in Melbourne. I’m a pretty nervous and solitary person unless I’m behind a screen, so meeting new people is a little bit terrifying to me. I know there are few conventions that happen in Melbourne but I rarely attend unless I’m physically dragged out of my house by my friends.

What is that you get out of comics, as a reader, and as a creator? What do they give/offer you?

As a reader I like having the actual book in my hands, I prefer to buy physical copies rather than read online. Something about the tactile nature of books and the page flipping gives me a lot of enjoyment and I’m not sure why! That being said, I love how people have been taking advantage of the internet and are being so creative with their presentation! Seeing comics like Thunderpaw presenting a story with animated elements and Margot's Room utilising the scrolling aspect of an internet browser is really exciting. As a creator, I find it to be the perfect mix of writing and drawing to keep me going. It also offers me a lot of space to experiment, with panelling and pacing and using type, so it’s not really something I can get bored of.

You make pretty awesome gifs and use motion well- is animation something you're interested in perhaps pursuing?

I don't think I'll be pursuing animation, it's very much a hobby for me. Although the course I was in taught a little animation I didn’t find it helpful, we only really learned about tweening. Eventually I taught myself some animation basics simply so I could make little bits of my drawings move. 

Who are some of your favourite comic creators/books? 

There are so many! It’s going to be really hard to pick, but I love virtually anything by Moebius, Mike Mignola, Naoki Urasawa, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hiromu Arakawa, Kerasco√ęt, Junji Ito, Jillian Tamaki, and Luke Pearson. I’ll also buy basically anything that Nobrow puts out because I’m really into their beautiful publications, I even have a shelf dedicated to just their output.

What are you influenced by outside of comics?

Plenty of stuff! Television and film are a big influence for me at the moment, I especially love seeing how shots are framed and I think it informs the way I frame my drawings. My regular rewatch list consists of Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, and The Royal Tenenbaums. Some other assorted influences of mine are Rene Magritte, Edward Gorey, candid photography especially polaroids, The Moomins, and my peers of course.

A lot of your work has elements of horror- sort of a quiet horror- and also a sweetness, sort of a refined, distilled manga aesthetic. Are there any areas you particularly want to explore, or themes you enjoy writing about?

I don’t really consciously decide to write or draw unless it’s for a larger project that I need to share with others before completion. I like having flexibility with personal comics and drawings so I tend to just wing it without any writing involved. Also since I feel like I’m still in my infancy when it comes to comics, I like having the freedom to just explore themes and styles. I find myself always leaning toward more morbid themes though! I guess it’s hard to hide what I like best, and I like everything a little spooky.

You use colour so beautifully- is that an intrinsic grasp, or a skill that's developed more deliberately from looking at things and taking them in, and an idea you have in your mind?

I find colours to be the most intuitive but also difficult part of an illustration. I used to obsess over them, and I would compose palettes using all the colour theory I could remember before starting to add them to a drawing. It was a pretty stiff and boring process, and I often wouldn’t like the end result. Now though I find I like my drawings more when I'm having fun with colours. Just throwing them down and tweaking them until I like what I see always yields the best results. I guess my colour sense matured over the years? Or at least I hope so.

Do you take much notice of the culture surrounding the medium- issues affecting it, changes taking place- do you see those as affecting you ever, or something that you keep abreast of, to be aware?

I try to keep up to date with everything that is going on because i think being aware of what is happening is really important, but at the same time I try not to get too involved. I’m very pleased to see more and more very successful women and poc in comics, both in writing and illustrating! It really gives me hope, since a lot of people around me tried to discourage me from pursuing comics telling me it was a small space for a very select group of people, which is a little ridiculous and untrue. 

How helpful has it been to have an online presence- both in terms of people being aware of you and your work, or to you in terms of having an audience, and also as it being much more easy to access a broad spectrum of work to read and look at, and communicate with artists?

The internet has pretty much been the reason I’ve been able to expand my interests and abilities. I like how I can basically throw up some drawings and get instant feedback on them. It's given me the opportunity to speak to many people I admire, I got to know a lot of great and encouraging people, and gained access to a lot of inspirational material. It’s also the only way I’ve been able to get work, so I’m pretty fond of the internet except for when I fall into the internet black hole for three days and get no work done.

Where would you like to head ideally career-wise?

Publication is the dream, I think. I would love the opportunity to work on something for print! Ultimately though I would just like to be able to support myself doing something I enjoy, I want to be able to devote my time to just drawing comics and thinking about drawing comics and talking about drawing, and comics. I’d also like a lifestyle that allowed me to have more dogs.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline- uni projects included?

I have a comic project I’ve been mulling over for a really long time, but hopefully I’ll have enough work done to release it into the internet wild sometime this year. I also have a food related batch of illustrations that I’m working on for a zine. Other than that I’m just trying to draw as much as I can!

Currently watching: rewatching all the Cube films
Sound: My dog, snoring in the laundry
Closest thing to hand right now (not your computer!): a congregation of empty coffee mugs
One food: beef hot pot
Could not live without: warm socks
Raising an eyebrow at: my tablet, which is very very old and in need of replacing
Something beginning with 'g': green beans

You can find Choo's Tumblr here, and on Twitter here

Monday, 21 April 2014

Manga: a place to start

As a a comic reader, it took me the longest time to start reading manga; I'd read comics in lots of other formats and from all around the world, but my unfamiliarity with Japanese comics presented a stumbling block as I struggled to find a point of entry. It all seemed so daunting: there were series that went on for over 50 volumes, I couldn't differentiate between art styles, or even between characters, and the styilised characteristics and expressions left me a bit cold. I persevered though, because I knew it was obviously me- Japanese comics boast some of the greatest masters of the medium, and make up a bulk of superb work, so I knew it was simply a matter of time before I found books that would stick. I thought it might be helpful to others to compile a short list of 5 the books/series that were instrumental in helping me overcome that barrier.

Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn and Quarterly: Black Blizzard was one of the breakthrough manga books I read, which affirmed my interest in Japanese comics and made me feel like it was something that could be surmounted! A single volume (no prequels/sequels or so forth), it's a very early work by the hugely influential Yoshihiro Tatusmi (written when he was 21), who went on to become instrumental in the 'alternative manga' movement, marking a shift in tone and content to more real narratives, discussing social issues which were rather taboo, the purpose and isolation of the individual, and the treatment of the working class. Prior to all that, he created Black Blizzard, one of my favourite books, and an ode to the hard-boiled crime genre, fuelled by Tatsumi's love for Mickey Spillane. 

Two prisoners, one a hardened career criminal, the other a young, gifted pianist charged with murder, find themselves handcuffed to one another as they're being transported to prison on a train, in the midst of a raging, snowy blizzard. When an avalanche causes the train to crash, they take the opportunity to escape into the unforgiving weather and up into the mountains, the older man dragging the reluctant youngster with him. Bound together by the cuffs, they find refuge in a ranger's cabin, and after building a fire, as they  get warm and begin to open up to one another, a more complex narrative unfolds. 

For a comic created in 1956, Black Blizzard remains remarkably crisp and vibrant, thanks to Tatsumi's simple, dynamic illustrations, and the timelessness of  what is a surprisingly melancholy, bitter-sweet story with values of love, honour and family at its heart. If you have difficulties reading right to left, this is published in a flipped format, so it reads left to right in the traditional Western manner.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz Media: If you're looking for a complete change of pace, Taiyo Matsumoto's Sunny offers something slower and more reflective. Centered around a children's home (a private run facility housing children who for some reason or another are unable to stay with their parents), its title is derived from an old, abandoned Nissan Sunny, which the kids love to sit in, and use as a place of solace, away from the adults. The car quite literally acts a vehicle for their escape, as they allow their imaginations to run free, and discuss future plans, free from the bounds of the home.

Again- in the first volume especially, there is no concrete narrative, with Matsumoto simply jumping from child to child, following them as they go to school, have a chat, eat dinner, introducing a new arrival. Their back-stories aren't laid bare, but The strength of it lies in the character work, and the unique art- Matusmoto's traditional, realistic tendencies married with a surreal quirk really feeds into the alienation and oddness of the kids. There's not a lot of exposition, and it's often slow, but worth sticking with- the more time you spend with these kids, the better you get to know them. The emotional range of it runs like a wavelength in the background, surging every now and again in anger or confusion, as the children deal with their abandonment and sense of betrayal.

The third volume of Sunny was published in English this month, and while each book contains a series of vignettes, making it fairly ideal to be read as a stand-alone, you do see characters develop and narratives build as it progresses, so it's certainly more rewarding to read all 3, and in order.

Pluto by Naoki Urasawa, Viz Media: Pluto was the manga that got me hooked I read the first book and bought all the rest because it simply that good and that addictive. The first volume alone is one of the best I've read- brilliantly executed, getting the reader to grips with the story, establishing characters, action, intrigue, emotional investment- I can't imagine anyone reading it and not wanting to continue.

It's based around one of Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy stories, but absolutely no familiarity with that is required in order for you to understand and enjoy this (I've not read the original, but Pluto is one of my favourite comics).  It's a sci-fi tale, set in a future where a huge war has just ended, and sentient, humanoid robots exist- uneasily, with factions of humans-, but are largely still second-class citizens, used for labour and various other jobs. Robots are bound by a derivation of Asimov's 3 laws, meaning they are unable to harm humans, and yet a series of murders begin to take place, with all the evidence pointing to the perpetrator being non-human. At the same someone is also systematically killing the seven great robots of the world, and so Europol's top detective, Gesicht is assigned the investigation- knowing, that as a member of that select group, he too, is a target.

I'm sure I've made that sound more complicated than it actually is, but Pluto is a superb comic, 7 volumes long that never dips in quality. Urasawa's talent lies in layered, accessible storytelling with great characters, and here he writes about war, treatment of marginalised groups, fear, grief in a completely engrossing way. You may hear Pluto referred to as a great genre comic, and I'm never quite sure what people mean when they refer to something  in that manner; it has a negative connotation- but forget that.  Pluto is one of the best comics I've read, and if I could urge anybody making their foist foray into manga to put aside their misgivings and read one book, it would be this one.

Yotsuba! by Kiyohiko Azuma, Yen Press: Yotsuba is an ongoing , all-ages series, with volumes still being produced and translated, and one of the good things about in terms of accessibility, is that you can essentially pick up any book, regardless of the order, read a random volume, and it'll still make sense (although you'll want to read more). There's no overarching narrative thread, as such; the story simply follows little Yotsuba, a smart, curious, unaffected kid as she goes about her day-to-day life. It's such an uplifting comic, that never fails to make me feel happy.

If you're looking for something that illustrates diversity in familial units, Yotsuba's an adopted child, living with her single dad, with Jumbo (so called due to his towering 6 foot plus frame), her dad's florist best friend, acting as one of her role models. The first volume finds Yotsuba and her dad moving a new home, with Yotsuba quickly inserting herself into the life of her next-door neighbours- a family of 3 daughters living with their parents, who become fixed characters for the rest of the series.

Where Azuma is to be commended, is that while Yotsuba is cutsey and sweet, it's never overly so, it's never saccharine and the portrayal of the characters feels very real, especially the portrayal of Yotsuba, who epitomises childlike enthusiasm and innocence and unpredictability. Funny and warm and off-beat, it's honestly a very special series- I always try to buy a couple of volumes to have on stand-by when I need cheering up, and they're just so easy to read- perfect for kids.

Uzumaki by Junji Ito, Viz Media: Uzumaki is another short manga series, 3 volumes in length, although a complete hardback omnibus edition is also available. It's a horror, one considered a classic, and an immensely strange one at that. It comes from the mind of Junji Ito, renowned horror master- turning the seemingly ridiculous -sharks with legs (but that's' another story)- into genuinely creepy, original tales that linger. Uzumaki has what probably sounds like an weird concept- a town slowly becoming obsessed with, and overtaken by spirals- spirals, the old secret shape of the world, manifest everywhere, insidious, affecting everyone, turning people insane and murderous.

The story begins with a focus on  high-schooler Kirie Goshima, as she begins to notice people close to her acting strangely- her father, her boyfriend, all fallen under the spell of the crystal. Soon enough, the whole of town is stricken, with the spiral curling all outward-bound roads and paths back in, as they're cut off from help and intervention with things getting worse. Ito builds the tension horribly- and that's where Uzumaki's real strength lies- it's horrific in parts, but mostly it's the whirlpool of despair, the thick atmosphere of dread, and the relentless-ness that hits you. That, and the obscure, almost abstract nature of something as benign as a spiral as this inexplicable, malevolent force.

It's probably the most culturally different book here in terms of cues etc., and Ito's warped ideas, but it works best if you just go with it. The art is striking- lots of body horror, visceral imagery- and does a lot of the work in bringing Ito's concept to such startling life.

Translation wishlist: Cyril Pedrosa's Portugal

Writing about Cyril Pedrosa last week got me thinking about his comics work. There's not a lot of it, frankly- Les coeurs solitaires (The Lonely Hearts), Three Shadows, a couple of volumes of Autobio (a musing, ecological biography), a few series with David Cahuvel- Shaolin Moussaka and Ring Circle, anthology contributions here and there, etc. Okay, so he's done more than I thought- but his best work is undoubtedly where he takes up both writing and illustrative duties- to that end both Three Shadows and Portugal are superb.

Portugal is Pedrosa's 2011, 261 page, Angouleme award-winning book and his most notable work to date. The plot sounds like something semi-autobiographical: a cartoonist is disenchanted with his job as a teacher, and slowly becoming disengaged in other areas of life, also, much to the frustration of his girlfriend. So when he's invited to spend a few days in Portugal, where his family is from and where he has not been since childhood (again, like Pedrosa), he views the opportunity as something that may rejuvenate him, and kick his mind and life back into gear: 'an introspective tale exploring the folds and recesses of an uneventful everyday existence, which has become devoid of colour and flavour. It is also the story of rebirth, through the rediscovery of a childhood place, shrouded in the haze of memory.'

It looks utterly gorgeous: the watercolours on Pedrosa's pencils remind me of Gipi, but Gipi doesn't really use rich, strong colours- the book's colouring is credited to Pedrosa and his oft-used collaborator, Ruby. Looking back at these sketchbook paintings, though, the colour palette is very much in keeping with even his 'rough' work- I'm not sure who coloured Christophe Blain's Gus and his Gang (Celmence? Walter Pezzali?), but the manner in which a page encompasses whole blocks of colour or wash, from panel to panel, to signify shifts in lighting, mood and emphasis is very similar. It's a gorgeous book, and one I really hope gets given a English language translation at some point.

Shades of Carpet

Time for the semi-regular update about what I'm reading and what I've bought (or a segment of it at least), set against the back-drop of my magically colour changing carpet. I really should get Instagram and just filter the shit out of everything.

I read a lot more serialised comics since I started working at a comic book store: initially, I went through a period of trying to read as much as possible, so I'd be able to provide a better service to customers, but a) that wasn't feasible (not to mention it didn't leave time for me to read the things I actually wanted to read), and b) when I was hired, the employment specification required a candidate who was more familiar with independent and small press, so. Additionally, I think I read pretty widely anyway, and the guys cover the areas I'm not as knowledgeable about- it works out.

That said, I'm aware of and pick up a lot of titles I normally wouldn't: case in point: The Midas Flesh, illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, and written by Ryan North.. It seems to have flown under the radar somewhat, or at least I've not read much about it, which I find surprising because it's a really great comic that manages to amalgamate a host of things: sci-fi, Greek mythology, dinosaurs- do each of them well, and still come out as very much its own thing. The premise sees a spaceship with a crew of 3- Joey, Fatima, and Cooper (bespectacled scientist dinosaur) flying out in search of a mystery planet: Earth. But this is Earth that never progressed beyond Midas and his golden touch, with the king having turned it all into gold: a frozen, dead planet with a remarkably well-preserved (although seemingly dead) Midas at its centre. As the story unfolds, we learn that space is embroiled in an intergalactic war/heading fast into dictatorship, and the friends plan to use Midas and his unique ability as a means to bring about peace. Of course things are never that simple, and there's a reason Earth has been hidden from the radar of everyone else for so long. The pace set is beautifully measured- with each issue serving up some action, yet the narrative unfurling slowly- tricky to pull off.

North, Lamb and Paroline have created a high quality all-ages comic, suspenseful, engaging,  smart, funny, and one that ticks a hell of a lot of boxes of what I constantly read people are looking for- diverse and representative: 2 intelligent, capable female protagonists- one a pilot, one a pilot/scientist, one of whom also happens to be a Muslim woman of colour. Those aspects are never shoved in your face at any point, but presented as completely natural- which they are- I point them out in case that's something you're looking for, and in a bid to further flag up how good this comic is. And a dinosaur- did I mention the dinosaur? The Midas Flesh is a monthly comic, currently at the half-way point, with 4 issues released, and four to go (the 5th comes out this month), and something you should be reading. If you it's too late, and don't want to start bang in the middle of the story, ask at your comic book store- they often have older copies, or may be able to order them in for you. The comic also has a dedicated website here, where you can view preview pages from each issue, and a whole lot more.

Midas Flesh page from Comic Vine

Heyyyy, Brandon Graham goodness. It seems Graham's doing a lot of collaborative work recently, smaller projects and covers which is nice as a fan- it means you still get things from him regularly: on the left you've got the first issue of Shutter, illustrated by Leila del Duca, and written by Joe Keatinge (somebody on Tumblr bought the original art to Graham's variant cover- as shown in the photo below- and I'm so fucking jealous, I don't really want to think about it), and on the right an Empowered one-shot written by Adam Warren, also illustrated by Graham. I was going to take a look at Shutter anyhow; I liked how Keatinge was talking about the old-school, adventure-story-in-the-vein-of-Tintin vibe he was aiming for, so getting a Graham cover for it was a bonus, especially one so lovingly homaged. The first issue was spot-on in terms of capturing that tone of classic kid's adventures: spunky kid globe-trotting around the world with her dad, who dies, fast forward to adult-hood and she's a children's writer. I loved that detail- it's a recurrent trope, almost, meta-like in authorial reflection. But I'm not going to lie: I'm going through a major Herge phase where you simply have to say Tintin and I'm going to look at the thing.

Empowered, I don't read (and I've not read this yet), but I'm a huge fan of Graham's art. More so than his writing, which is very much its own thing, which I respect for its imagination, but isn't really for me. But his art- yeah. His art, to me, is the most well-done fusion of ligne claire and Japanese manga, so aesthetically pleasing, just clear flowy lines- the cleanliness and clarity of it, even when it's detailed- I really appreciate it. It transcends its influences, too, you can easily recognise anything he's drawn. He's also one of those artists who you can tell loves drawing- that transmutes in people's work, and it's present in his.

It's going to sound weird that I say this because I work in a comic book store, and a great one at that, but I like visiting different ones if I can. We're lucky enough to have 3 comic books stores in Leeds, and it's surprising how each one manages to have an identity of their own, and - major books aside- the variation in stock. Steve and I went out on Friday, and I dragged him around a bit, picking up the Gerry Alanguilan book, Elmer, along with Sam Hiti's El Largo Tren Oscuro (The Long Dark Train). It cost about £10 for both, which I consider a good deal. They're both older books; Alanguilan's was published in 2010 and Hiti's even further back, in 2005.  Been meaning to get hold of a copy of the Hiti book- a long, flip book format comic about a train headed to Hell- and that completes my collection of his work, I believe.

I think everybody likes that feeling of discovery, especially in a exposition heavy world where so much is available, and made available, to us, so it's sort of thrilling to come across a book I've never heard of before, and which looks flat-out amazing: Elmer's set in a world where chickens have suddenly acquired the intelligence and consciousness of humans, recognise themselves to be sentient and are campaigning for equal rights as humans. Looking forward to reading this- sounds like Animal Farm crossed with Duncan the Wonder Dog.

Sick, Sick, Sick I bought second-hand from Amazon, on Tom Spurgeon's recommendation and loved it immensely. I'm aware of Jules Fieffer and his standing as a cartoonist, but hadn't read anything of his prior to this. I think he was about 25 when he produced this collection, and it's glorious. You know when you expect nothing from a book because you don't know enough to know what to expect, and then it turns out to be fantastic- well, that. Acutely observed, sharp, bloody funny- he reminds me of Posy Simmonds, apart from that I always felt Simmonds could never really take down the middle classes she was cartooning because there was a genteel streak, an affection that obstructed it. I'm not saying you have to loathe something to take the piss out of it, but I do think you have to stand a little apart from it; Simmonds' work never quite rang wholly true for me. Fieffer doesn't suffer from that problem. 

I like how Sick is both of its time, in its portrayal of ad men and politics, and yet timeless- people are people, even decades on, and culture, it seems, rarely changes drastically. Not that of the upper classes, anyhow, with the partying, and shagging, and Taking Up of Pursuits. His cartoons are often very minimal, but the emotion's all in the lines and curves and angles, which convey so much. Going to be hunting down the rest of his work: instafan!

from Sick, Sick, Sick

Got the special edition of Oliver Schrauwen's My Boy from Bries, which is a thing of beauty- look at that cover:

It's a slightly surreal thing, following the trials of a stately Victorian gentleman and his pocket-sized, baby heir, where Schrauwen mocks the British 'oh by gum, golly' facade of proper-ness, instead envisioning a rather frankly do-lally older gentlemen who has no idea about children, but not in the manner of 'I shall attempt to raise him as best I can and hire him a governess etc,' but 'I'll take my 1 year old to the zoo and allow him to smoke cigars etc.' A pastiche of those warm, Dickens novels, eh? Regardless, it's captivating to look at: the oddness of the subject matter married with spider-fine lines, faintly worn colours to mimic a yellowed newspaper effect. The zoo story is stupendously illustrated: as if the more absurd and objectionable things get, the more beautiful they appear in some effort at placation.  

Friday, 18 April 2014

Dream another dream

You may remember a while back I wrote about the Spanish elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca (the monster of colours has no mouth) project, which launched in 2002 with the aim to traverse a 'worldwide journey to collect dreams written by kids in different countries.' A selection of these transcribed dreams are then passed on to various artists, who, with the help of their talents and a little imaginative license, then render them visually on the page. The project has seen children from Mexico, Spain, Brazil, France, Cuba, Germany and Israel participate since its foundation. 

Elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca produce these 'dream booklets' for sale as concertina comics of a sort,  a leporello, with each 'page' serving as a panel, which unfolded tells a larger story. A number of immensely talented artists have taken part in the project (you can see more at their website, which is a treasure trove of art, and you might want to bookmark), and they were kind enough to send me a selection, which I thought I'd scan and share here-it's the weekend, which means nice art to wash your eyeballs in. First up, is the one I was most excited about: German cartoonist Thomas Wellmann's Denitro De Mi Pelo (Inside My Hair). If there's one thing we've established about Wellmann here on the blog, it's that the man can draw -see Pimo and Rex for pictorial evidence- he's a blend of Lewis Trondehim and Zac Gorman, creating gorgeous, brightly coloured adventure-scapes, populated by animals, and geometric, angular, round, gloopy odd and yet charming characters. Here, he takes six individual dream transcriptions and brings them together in one busy, zany world- the composition of it is amazing.

The titular dream, as visualised on the cover, from Andrea, aged 9: 'I dreamed I had very long hair and at night a monster came out and camouflaged itself inside my hair, until one day I caught him. But because he was a good monster, we became friends.'

I love this spread, encompassing a few dreams, Wellmann's genuisely woven them all together so they exist in the same narrative/world. See if you can find these two:

'I dreamed that I was locked in my house and my friends were monsters. One of them had a single eye, the other one had six ears and the other one had ten arms. We became friends. In the street we wore costumes so they wouldn't see us. I dressed up as a monster and er were going to a fancy dress party.' -another gem from Andrea, aged 9.

'I dreamed that when I was having breakfast I found a head under the table and it told me there was a tournament for killing zombies. I went out of the house and there were a hundred zombies destroying the village. the head gave me a sword made of diamonds and I killed all the zombies, and that's how they gave me the trophy and I woke up.' -Joan, aged 9. There's a really good interview with Wellmann over at the site, too which is worth a read, if you're at all interested in his work.

'Lie Die' by Israeli artist Roni Fahima is pretty super- the dreams here have obviously been chosen for their similar themes and then presented to the artist- the ones here have a focus on space and some slightly more ominous in tone: 'I dreamed that if you say a lie you will die. Lots of people lied so they died. The only way to not die was to not lie for one day but we couldn't so everybody died.' -Fitnat, aged 9

'The Perfect Sleepwalker' illustrated by Matthew Houston: 'I dreamed about a truck driver who was a sleepwalker. At night he dreamed that he had a racing car and he sleepwalked and turned the truck into a racing car.' -Alejandro, aged 10. I love Houston's interpretative style here, fairytale/fable reminiscent, rendered in that precise, pattern/symbol-esqe, tapestry manner.

'My dream was  that I fed a white unicorn that had a very long horn and only ate grass and dried fish.' - Alvaro

'Mas Granndes Y Viejos' (More Big and Old') illustrated by Amanda Baeza: this one is slightly different in nature as the whole concertina comic is only re-telling one dream, which is honestly quite beautiful: 'Yesterday I dreamed that i was at home and it started to snow outside. i felt very happy and went to play with my siblings, throwing snowballs. I hid in a cave and found a monster that wouldn't let me in because he was protecting something. it was a puppy. The monster and I became friends and he let me the puppy. When the snow was gone, the monster disappeared and the puppy too. I don't know why but I kept them in my heart until it snowed again, and the monster and the dog came back, but they were bigger and older.' -Maria

Baeza's approach is lovely, surreal, sparse, playful, but so evocative.

And finally 'best Friend's illustrated by Wren Mcdonald, who brings 9 year old Olivia's dream to the page: 'Today I dreamed I was at the park, being chased by some of my best friends. When they caught me, they threw me into a black hole. And that black hole took me to Mars, that planet in space. I was exploring and some extraterrestrial tied me up. When they took me to their leader, he ate me.' I like how the project underlines the role of the artist in comics- these dreams could be spun out in so many ways, but it's the artist who brings the tone and emotion and decides which way it's all going to lean.

As I've stated previously, I'm a big fan of the elmonstruodecoloresnotieneboca project, and the work Roger Omar does, particular in involving schools and children around the world to demonstrate the power of imagination, words and pictures. I can't imagine how exciting it would be for a child to send off the dream they wrote and get one of these amazingly illustrated booklets back. They're really well designed, too, on quality cardboard, and are a pretty nice things to have and give in their own right- you can visit the online shop here.